American missing in Iran was on unapproved mission

By Matt Apuzzo

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Dec. 13 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

"I would like to know if I do, in fact, expend my own funds to conduct this meeting, there will be reimbursement sometime in the near future, or, if I should discontinue this, as well as any and all similar projects until renewal time in May," Levinson wrote.

There's no evidence that Jablonski ever responded to that email. And she says she has no recollection of ever receiving it.

A few days later, Levinson joined Jablonski and her husband for dinner at Harry's Tap Room in the Washington suburbs. Levinson was days away from his trip, and though he was eager to get paid for it, Jablonski says the subject never came up in conversation.

The discussion was more light-hearted, she said. She recalls scolding her overweight friend for not eating right, especially while on the road. At one point she recalls chiding him: "If I were your wife, I'd confiscate your passport."

On Feb. 12, Levinson again emailed Jablonski, saying he hadn't heard anything from the contract office. Jablonski urged him not to get the contract team involved.

"Probably best if we keep talk about the additional money among us girls — you, me, Tim and Brian — and not get the contracts folks involved until they've been officially notified through channels," Jablonski said, according to emails read to the AP.

Jablonski signed off: "Be safe."

Levinson said he understood. He said he'd try to make this trip as successful as previous ones. And he promised to "keep a low profile."

"I'll call you upon my return from across the pond," he said.

While Levinson was overseas, the CIA was raving about information Levinson had recent sent about Venezuela and Colombian rebels.

"You hit a home run out of the park with that stuff," she wrote. "We can't, of course, task you on anything, but let's just say it's GREAT material."

Levinson arrived in Dubai on March 3, 2007. Friends and investigators say he was investigating cigarette smuggling and also looking into Russian organized crime there.

On March 8, he boarded a short flight to Kish Island, a tourist destination about 11 miles off Iran's southern coast. Unlike the Dubai trip, this one was solely for the CIA. He was there to meet his source about Iran.

The biggest prize would be gleaning something about Iran's nuclear program, one of the CIA's most important targets.

Levinson's source on Kish was Dawud Salahuddin, an American fugitive wanted for killing a former Iranian diplomat in Maryland in 1980. In interviews with ABC News and the New Yorker, Salahuddin has admitted killing the diplomat.

Since fleeing to Iran, Salahuddin had become close to some in the Iranian government, particularly to those seen as reformers and moderates.

To set up the meeting, Levinson worked with a longtime friend, retired NBC investigative reporter Ira Silverman. Silverman had talked at length with Salahuddin and, in a 2002 piece for the New Yorker magazine, portrayed him as a potential intelligence source if the U.S. could coax him out of Iran. The subtitle of the article: "He's an assassin who fled the country. Could he help Washington now?"

"I told them to put off until after the U.S. surge in Iraq was completed," Salahuddin told the National Security News Service, a Washington news site, shortly after Levinson disappeared. "But Silverman and Levinson pushed for the meeting and that's why we met in March."

Silverman's role in helping set up Levinson's meeting with Salahuddin has been previously disclosed. Silverman declined to discuss Levinson's disappearance.

Levinson's flight landed late the morning of March 8, a breezy, cloudy day. He checked into the Hotel Maryam, a few blocks off Kish's eastern beaches. Salahuddin has said he met with Levinson for hours in his hotel room.

The hotel's registry, which Levinson's wife has seen, showed him checking out on March 9, 2007.

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS